Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku to “step up” in the wake of Manchester United’s injury crisis as they prepare to face Crystal Palace without as many as 10 players.
Paul Pogba is the only member of Solskjaer’s established front six who is currently deemed fit to play at Selhurst Park, with Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera ruled out with hamstring injuries and Anthony Martial still unavailable with a groin problem.
Marcus Rashford’s ankle will be assessed again on Tuesday after suffering a heavy blow in a challenge by Jordan Henderson during Sunday’s goalless draw against Liverpool but the United striker’s prospects of playing are slim at this stage. Rashford was in such pain he was struggling just to get his shoe back on after the Liverpool game.
Juan Mata is also out with a hamstring injury, the Spaniard one of three first half departures, along with Herrera and Lingard, against Liverpool. Defenders Antonio Valencia, who will be out for another few weeks with a recurrence of a calf injury, Phil Jones, who has been ill and injured, Matteo Darmian and academy striker Mason Greenwood remain sidelined.
Solskjaer confirmed academy graduates Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and James Garner would be included in the squad and defender Marcos Rojo will also be involved as the caretaker manager urged Sanchez and Lukaku to fill the huge void left by the absence of a plethora of key players.
Lukaku has been played wide right recently and created United’s best chance against Liverpool and Solskjaer hopes the Belgium striker and Sanchez, who has just five goals in 39 matches for United, will revel in the responsibility.
“That [Sanchez and Lukaku’s wages] has not got anything to do with things,” Solskjaer said when asked if it was time the pair justified their huge salaries and reputations.
“It’s a chance for them to play to their potential, reputation is one thing. The potential is high, the two are good mates, they link up well together so this might be a chance for them two together to find some form and give a selection headache for when everyone gets fit.
“Rom created our two biggest chances against Liverpool, it’s a different position for him. Rashy’s injury meant he couldn’t do too much defending work, so Rom’s work rate was fantastic.
“The two chances were Rom’s doing and the link up between them [Lukaku and Sanchez] against Arsenal in the FA Cup [was good] so hopefully they can step up.”
Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Southampton coupled with United’s draw against Liverpool saw Solskjaer’s side drop fifth, a point behind the North London club, and face a Palace team unbeaten in their past six games and coming off the back of a 4-1 win over Leicester.
Solskjaer, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Tuesday, admitted United’s squad was stretched.
“We’ve not had a session yet but I don’t think there are a lot of positives, no,” he said. “Valencia is a bit off because he did his calf again, he’s still a few weeks off, he started running. Martial is not going to be ready for this one, either, we can’t risk it.
“So maybe Southampton [for Martial] but we’re not gonna risk another one. In hindsight Jesse was eager, ticked all the boxes in training recovery work and rehab but maybe [Liverpool was] a couple of days too early. It was Liverpool and he was desperate to be part of it.
“Matteo trained the other day, I don’t think he’ll be ready. Rojo will be involved. Phil [Jones] was ill one of these days, so he’s been out for a little while as well with an illness. Luckily at centre-back there are quite a few fit ones, the three of them [Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly] are ready.
“Rashy we’re still waiting to see how his ankle is responding to the treatment. [The others with] muscle injuries are too early to think about. That’s it. The kids are joining in today. They’ll be involved in the squad.”
Solskjaer said he had high hopes for Chong, Gomes and Garner.
“They’ve been part of our training for a long time now and I’m sure [Angel] has been in that successful England U17s team, the 2017 team with [Jadon] Sancho, [Phil] Foden and [Callum] Hudson-Odoi, he’s been a big part and definitely shown he’ll do well.
“James Garner is a Michael Carrick but 20 years younger, I’m sure he’ll do well and Chongy will be taking people on if he comes on. They’re ready, the kids. It’s hard if you’re a young defender coming on but as an attacker you go out there and express yourself. They can win the game, not lose it for you.
“Palace have been very good. That game against Leicester was impressive, the way Roy [Hodgson] sets up his teams, we know that, we know that we have to be good on the ball, we have to break them down. But then again we know on the counter attack with [Wilfried] Zaha and [Andros] Townsend, [Michy] Batshuayi, [Christian] Benteke, whoever it is up front they’ve got some pace on the counter attacking threat so we have got to be at our best.”